The importance of early diagnosis of autoimmune diseases
What are AI diseases?
Throughout the process of evolution, our bodies have developed an immune system capable of facing external threats to our bodies through the production of specific antibodies. Oftentimes, healthy cells/tissues get caught up during our body’s immune response to foreign threats, triggering the development of autoimmune diseases. Despite the detrimental effects such diseases can have on our bodies, a relatively normal life can be lived if diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.
Generally, the prevalence of autoimmune diseases in developing countries tends to be higher than that in developed countries. With the increased awareness surrounding the severity of the issue in developed countries, more precaution is taken to minimise the environmental risk associated with the development of AI diseases (1). To give you a rough idea of the dimension of this issue in a developed country like Canada, it is estimated that roughly 2 million Canadians suffer from an autoimmune disorder (2) - this is the equivalent to roughly 19% of its population. Putting matters into perspective, simply being aware that as much as one fifth of Canadians could be at risk of developing severe effects as a result of undiagnosed AI diseases comes to show how these disorders are still, to this day, a major issue even in a country as medically developed as Canada.
As of 2022, there are over 80 known autoimmune disorders (3). They are commonly diagnosed once its symptoms are manifested - which can occur at any point in one’s lifetime. More often than not, however, they’re left undiagnosed.
The process of diagnosing autoimmune diseases can be relatively extensive. Most frequently, when your symptoms align with those of autoimmune disorders, an Antinuclear Antibody Test is the first done to confirm (4). This test alone, however, solely determines whether or not you have one of the many types of AI diseases - it is not enough to determine the exact one you’re suffering from. Following this, other tests will then be performed depending on the experienced symptoms and further physical examination, which should ultimately indicate the specific disorder one’s suffering from. Such symptoms range from mild fatigue to intense joint pains, and they are common across the vast majority of autoimmune disorders. They serve as an indicator that something abnormal is taking place in your body, and should be checked up on as soon as they arise. This process alone takes an average of 4.5 years to complete (5), a time length that stirs the average person away from potential life saving treatment.
On top of the extensive diagnosis process, many autoimmune diseases are also left unnoticed as a lack of prominent symptoms and high medical fees, among several other factors. It is very important to note, however, that leaving unknowingly severe disorders undiagnosed can come with extreme health complications. Besides the ongoing symptoms that can take a major toll on a person’s general wellbeing, other internally detrimental events take place, causing further health problems and spiking the severity of the condition.
Treatment for autoimmune diseases varies greatly across all 80+ of its known types. While some solely require simple lifestyle changes (such as Celiac disease, where a gluten-free diet must be followed), others require more intense treatment such as organ transplants (in the case of Giant cell myocarditis). Given that the treatment for AI disorders is not a ‘one size fits all’ and is entirely dependent on the specific type one suffers from, the process of diagnosis becomes ever so much more important.
On a more positive note, autoimmune diseases have increasingly gained attention across the world - including Canada’s medical sector - allowing for facilitated treatment processes. For example, with the help of the CIHR, refined methods and standard operational procedures (SOPs) are currently being developed by the CAN-ASC to further improve collaboration among researchers with the ultimate goal of advancing treatment options for AI disorders (6). This initiative, among others, truly is a step in the right direction, hinting at potential advances in this sector in the near future.
We still have a long way to go in order for autoimmune disorders to achieve the visibility they’ve been lacking in the field of medical advances. Shedding light onto the importance of their diagnosis (and long term consequences of its lacking) is a crucial step to developing life-saving treatment. Ultimately, just like any other medical condition, the diagnosis of autoimmune diseases is essential for a person’s health - it becomes the starting point for treatment and a lifetime of recovery.
(1) Health News , Firstpost. Firstpost. (2020, January 13). Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.firstpost.com/health/why-are-autoimmune-diseases-on- the-rise-and-what-makes-women-more-susceptible-7898171.html
(2) Reardin, R. (2019, July 16). 5 autoimmune diseases affecting Canadians. Best Health. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.besthealthmag.ca/list/5-autoimmune-diseases-affecting-canadians/
(3) Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2022, March 28). Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/what-are-common-symptoms-of-autoimmune-disease
(4) Watson, S. (2019, March 26). Autoimmune diseases: Types, symptoms, causes & more. Healthline. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders
(5) Benaroya Research Institute. (2017, October 24). Diagnosing autoimmune diseases. Benaroya Research Institute. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.benaroyaresearch.org/blog/post/diagnosing-autoimmune-diseases
(6) Government of Canada, C. I. of H. R. (2019, September 25). Advancing treatment of autoimmune diseases through collaboration. CIHR. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/51701.html